How many kids you want, how often you floss, what flavor wedding cake you're imagining — these topics aren’t exactly appropriate for first-date conversations. But by the time you’re in a serious relationship, there are certain subjects you absolutely must discuss if you’re going to continue to build a healthy partnership.
So whether you’re already hitched, thinking about shacking up, or even if you’ve been dating for years without any intention of moving in together or getting married, this list is for you. Check out the nine discussions you and your partner need to have, STAT.
1. The talk about sex, baby
Maybe you two have already done the deed a million times. That doesn’t necessarily mean you know exactly what your partner wants and likes in bed, and it's probably a good idea to find out. Relationship experts say perceived sexual compatibility (as in, how well you think you guys work out sexually) can make or break a relationship. Maybe she has a secret fetish she still hasn’t shared with you; maybe you’ve been afraid to tell her you’re intimidated by how often she wants sex. Whatever your preferences, be as open and as non-judgmental as possible during the discussion.
2. The dolla-dolla bills discussion
Even if you’ve never explicitly talked about money, you probably already have a vague idea of how much your partner makes and how he/she likes to spend a paycheck. Still, if there’s a possibility that you two might end up sharing a bank account or co-owning a house (or if you already are), it’s crucial to have a conversation about finances. Taffy Wagner, financial expert and CEO of MoneyTalkMatters.com, told Woman’s Day that one important question to ask your partner is, “How did you manage your money when you were on your own?” It’s also a good idea, Wagner said, to decide which partner will be the main financial manager (although he/she always needs to keep the other partner informed).
3. The communication conversation
Wait — why would you talk about fighting if you’re not actually mad at each other? Because learning about your partner’s communication style, especially when he/she wants to talk about something that’s bothersome, helps prevent big blow-ups down the road. Relationship expert Rebecca Hendrix writes on TheKnot.com that it’s useful to think back to a recent quarrel and analyze it to see how each partner approached the situation differently. It could be that you chose to speak up the minute your partner did something annoying. It could be that your partner needs some time to process his/her emotions before beginning a discussion. Just knowing this information is really valuable for handling future conflicts.
4. The fuss about the future
For sure, thinking about what lies ahead for you two can be seriously anxiety provoking. While it might be nicer to just lay in bed together binge-watching Modern Family and “enjoy the moment,” a serious relationship requires some conversation about what each person envisions for the next few years. Are you planning to apply to Ph.D. programs all over the country? Is your partner hoping to quit his/her job and travel for a year? As Dr. Laura Berman, a sex and relationship educator and therapist, writes on Everyday Health, it’s important to get on the same page about your plans. Make sure to cover all the possibilities now so that, should one of them become a reality, you’ll be as prepared as possible.
5. The Cinderella story
Unfortunately, this conversation is less about romance and Prince Charming and more about household chores. Especially for couples who live together, it’s important to figure out who’s responsible for and actually enjoys which everyday tasks. According to relationship expert Paulette Kouffman-Sherman, the most important thing is that the division of chores feels fair. So if you hate cooking, go ahead and ask your partner if he/she would prefer to take charge in the kitchen, while you agree to wash the dishes afterward.
6. The cheating chat
Sometimes infidelity is easily defined. Having sex with someone else in the bed you share with your partner? Ding, ding, ding! That is cheating, times a thousand. But don’t take your partner’s thoughts about infidelity for granted. It’s worth having a sit-down discussion about what exactly constitutes cheating in the context of your unique relationship. Online communication is especially tricky — Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeev writes on PsychologyToday.com that people have different ideas about whether a virtual connection is actually an instance of infidelity if there’s no in-person interaction. There are all kinds of relationships with all kinds of boundaries, so make sure to figure out what yours are before someone gets hurt.
7. The “tell me about your childhood” exchange
I know, I know. “Love is blind” and all that. The truth is, you can totally love someone from a different cultural or religious background, but that doesn’t mean your different upbringings won't prove challenging at times. In fact, even if you two are from nearly identical backgrounds, you can still have developed different cultural and religious values. When a relationship starts to get serious, therapists at the University of Texas say it’s a good idea to talk about your values — how often you typically attend religious services (if at all), which holidays are most important for you to celebrate (if any), etc.
8. The family feud-preventer
Anyone who’s seen an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond knows that we don’t always get along with our significant other’s family. In fact, let’s be honest: Sometimes our in-laws (or almost-in-laws) can drive us up the wall. University of Texas therapists say you can minimize conflict between you and your partner’s relatives by taking the time to talk about your relationships with your respective families. Your partner may be used to telling his mother everything and taking all her advice, and expect you to do the same. You, on the other hand, may have no interest in taking style tips from your boyfriend’s mom. (“Honey, why don’t you try brushing your hair?”) Make sure to be honest and clear about the role family plays in each of your lives.
9. The “I do” dialog
Maybe a wedding is the farthest thing from your mind right now. Maybe you don’t plan to ever get married. Whatever your feelings about putting a ring on it, Dr. Tammy Nelson writes on The Huffington Post, it’s crucial to share them with your partner, especially if you two have been dating for a year or longer. It would be really unfortunate if, for example, you two moved in together only to find that one of you (wrongly) assumed cohabitation was the step before marriage. The same goes for your thoughts on starting a family. If you’re just not into the idea of having kids and you find out that your partner wants a minimum of two, you may start to rethink the future of the relationship. That's not to say you can't make it work, just that you're better off knowing where each of you stand.